War Over In Vitro Fertilization

Health Minister Ewa Kopacz has announced that she will sponsor a plan to finance in vitro fertilization for the one mln Polish couples (one in three) who are childless, usually as a result of infertility of either the wife or husband. But her plan met quick resistance on religious grounds from the Polish episcopacy.

Kopacz said her ministry will initially fund the in vitro fertilization technique for childless couples with the lowest incomes because there is not enough money to help all of them. This, however, she added, should be a first step toward full financing of this type of infertility treatment in Poland.
She was backed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who said in vitro fertilization treatment is worthy of state assistance and that his government is trying to solve one of Poland’s biggest social problems: the shrinking population (-0.04 percent in 2006).

Members of the Polish episcopacy stated their opposition to last week’s announcement by Kopacz.

Kazimierz Nycz, archbishop of Warsaw, said in vitro fertilization is unacceptable and pointed to adoption as a solution for childless couples. Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, a prominent member of the Catholic clergy, said the technique is against official doctrine and that no decision by the state should be an excuse for Polish Catholics to disregard church doctrine.

They both presented official views of the Catholic Church that were shaped by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, more than 20 years ago when he was chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican opposes in vitro fertilization as human embryos are destroyed in the process and considers artificial fertilization to be inhumane.

The church leaders’ views were roundly condemned by some elements of the liberal and left-wing press, especially by the Trybuna daily. Dziennik published a warning that discord over this issue may lead to a long war between the government and the episcopate similar to one over abortion in the early 90s.

Officially 89 percent of Poles are Catholics but the number of regular churchgoers is much smaller. Recently many Polish worshippers have adopted views contrary to those of the official line of their priests. For example, Kopacz, herself a Catholic, said she is not going to discuss the issue with the episcopate.

According to the Ministry of Health, annually no more than 4,000 couples decide for in vitro fertilization. The main obstacle is the price of the treatment, which can reach 20,000 zloty (5,500 euro). Government help likely would increase the number of in vitro fertilization applications to 25,000, experts said.

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